FITCHBURG, Mass. –
Defense Contract Management Agency recently launched efforts to increase its percentage of women within quality assurance, which currently hovers around 10%.
Claudia Rabaza, quality assurance specialist with DCMA Naval Special Emphasis Operations, hopes such efforts prove positive.
“This is a great career field that makes such a difference within our agency,” Rabaza said.
Rabaza provides QA (quality assurance) oversight for the Navy’s Columbia-class submarine new main propulsion motor at Leonardo Naval Power Systems-Fitchburg here.
“Every woman is going to decide what they want to do based on their strengths and skills and where they feel more confident in performing,” Rabaza said. “But if I had to tell a woman who was hesitant between choosing between any of the other career field and QAR (quality assurance representative), I’d say try it. Do it. Don’t hesitate.”
According to Rabaza, all agency team members can benefit from an increased familiarity with the quality assurance mission.
“Be a QA before you want to be a contract manager. You get to deal with reading the contract that they wrote and understanding it,” Rabaza said. “You engage with all of the other functions within the agency, but you’re still the one with boots on the ground making sure that whatever technical requirements are written in the contract gets done.”
She works directly with the contractor and customer when she communicates program-status updates.
“As a QA, you’re the one with the most engagement with all the other career fields, contractors, and customers,” Rabaza said.
She also said that she believes her military background helped prepare her for her QA role.
“Since I joined the military back in December 2000, I went straight into a man’s world, and I don’t mean that in a derogatory way. Aircraft maintenance at that moment 20 years ago, it was a man’s world,” Rabaza said. “I was the first woman to come into the aircraft avionics maintenance section in the Puerto Rico National Guard in 15 years.”
Rabaza said it was always a challenge to excel because her fellow airmen were not used to having a woman outperforming or performing at the same level as they did.
“So having that rough skin, that tough skin that you’d build up, definitely helped me understand that I could do anything I wanted to do and that it doesn’t matter what gender dominated the career field,” Rabaza said. “I was confident in my ability to do the job because I had already done quality assurance in avionics for a C-130 unit,” Rabaza said. “I was proud about what I did. I still am.”
As a QA subject matter, she provides training, advice and mentorship to the airmen assigned to her, much like she did in a military role.
“I was proud of training my airmen as I’m proud now to help out any fellow QAR when they call and they ask for advice or help,” Rabaza said.
A difference between her time in the Air National Guard and her time as a DCMA QA has been how women are accepted.
“We have three females performing in my NSEO QA team, and I think we’re all rock stars,” Rabaza said. “I’ve never had any different type of treatment just because I’m a female.”
She said that she believes that equal treatment is also reflected in the compensation women get as government employees.
“It’s totally immaterial, at least to my understanding, what gender you are. You have your pay grade and you have your pay steps,” Rabaza said. “In the private sector, women might go underpaid. Even though quality assurance is a good-paying career field in the private sector, I still believe that women there are underpaid compared to their male counterparts.”
Data from the U.S. Department of Labor shows that women, on average, earn 82 cents for every dollar a man earns.
In addition to the equal treatment and pay her QA role provides, Rabaza truly enjoys what she does.
“I think the most rewarding part of my job is, just about everything,” Rabaza said. “It’s rewarding to know so much detail and energy goes into this process and that our service members are getting something great. I take pride in that.”